In just four days as Premier of Queensland, Campbell Newman has already done as much as Barry O’Farrell and Ted Baillieu have done in a year between them.
And unlike O’Farrell, he hasn’t set up any boards, commissions or inquiries, or given any of his power away.
In fact, Can-Do hasn’t even bothered to pick most of his ministers before getting stuck in. He has been making decisions himself, with a little bit of help from deputy Jeff Seeney and new Treasurer Tim Nicholls.
Newman has already warned other wannabe-ministers that when he does pick them, he’ll be ready to sack them if they don’t perform.
And he has already done that to six senior public servants who worked for the Bligh government, replacing them with six of his own people, without bothering to advertise. Four of these new department heads worked with Newman in his seven-year stint as mayor of Brisbane. Another is former Queensland Liberal MP and party president Michael Caltabiano, who will run the Department of Transport and Main Roads.
Asked on ABC 612 whether this meant he was politicising the public service — as he has often criticised Labor for doing — Newman replied: “Here’s the difference: he [Caltabiano] is a civil engineer, he’s a project manager, he’s qualified to do the job. They appointed people who didn’t have a clue what they were doing.”
“Yes, he has been a political player, but … he will build roads, he will fix the public transport system … he will deliver. I know this bloke will rev this department up and make it happen.”
Newman’s next step is to tell the massed ranks of the public service what’s coming their way. Jeff Seeney is meeting the unions today to outline the new government’s plans to “cut waste” and cap wages growth at 3%. Already there are talks of cuts and strikes by nurses, despite a pledge by the LNP of no forced redundancies. Watch this space.
Meanwhile, Newman has given Anna Bligh’s husband, Greg Withers, who heads Queensland’s carbon reduction program, the unpleasant job of dismantling $276 million worth of clean energy initiatives pledged by the old government. This is expected to include scrapping a $75 million contribution to the $1.2 billion Solar Dawn research project and power plant west of Toowoomba.
But it’s not yet clear whether the LNP will be game to pull the plug. It’s not a good look for the Sunshine State to be shutting down solar power, and there is a risk the project would collapse if Queensland refused to back it. The rationale is that there is no need for such special assistance if Australia has a carbon tax as well.
But possibly Newman’s most interesting decision is to can the expansion of New Hope Coal’s open-cut mine at Acland on the Darling Downs, from 4.8 million tonnes to 10 million tonnes, because it will swallow up “strategic” farmland. Judging by pictures of the existing mine on Google Maps, there would be an awful lot of farmland left even if the pit were 10 times the size. But the promise was in the LNP’s election program and will doubtless play well with the farmers, whom the Nationals in the LNP see as their core constituency.
Newman has also put the kybosh on a $3 billion coal-to-liquids processing plant on the Darling Downs at Felton, which the project’s French backers, Ambre Energy, claim could produce one-fifth of the LPG and unleaded petrol used in Queensland.
So, miners looking for a free ride from the new government, take note: Newman’s a farmer at heart.